Golden children, who could do no wrong. That’s how private equity executives were described during their heyday. But what about today? Research from Boston Consulting Group and IESE Business School predicts that one in two private equity portfolio companies will default on their debt in the next three years, while between 20% and 40% of private equity firms themselves will soon go out of business.
It’s a dramatic reversal of fortune that CFOs of private equity companies are getting to grips with, giving them more in common with public-company counterparts than ever. As the CFOs in this month’s cover story, “Deal with it” demonstrate, their work now hinges on one critical factor: making sure that their portfolio companies don’t go bust. And like finance chiefs at public companies, the private equity CFOs who didn’t rely too heavily on debt but instead focused on improving the operational performance of their assets will reap the greatest rewards. In many ways, it is indeed about going back to basics, returning to the private equity business model of the 1990s which was based on expansion or development capital, rather than highly leveraged buyouts. It’s clear that nowadays private equity CFOs will have to work a lot harder for their money.
That’s yet another thing they now have in common with public company CFOs, as “Hard to get” reveals. Executive remuneration is under intense scrutiny, from politicians, who threw their weight behind reform proposals at this month’s G20 meeting in London, to the outraged general public. What can CFOs expect? Frozen salaries are about the only certainty. Beyond that, there’s little agreement. But one thing is certain: given the potential damage to personal and corporate reputations, outlandishly generous pay isn’t as enticing as it once was.